Newsome High School graduate Emily Olson may have been the only one of her classmates to show up at her graduation wearing her Army uniform and be told to put on a cap and gown or don’t participate, but she isn’t the only young soldier to have faced this situation.
- Student in California faced similar resistance
- Wearing uniform under cap and gown violates Army rule
- State Senator Tom Lee: Lawmakers may step in
Harland Fletcher from California said he had a similar experience at his high school graduation last year.
“I just basically said, 'I’m not going to graduate if I have to cover it up, because that’s against my morals,” he said.
Fletcher and Olson both enlisted in the Army reserves split program during their junior year of high school.
They said the school’s proposal to wear the uniform under the cap and gown violates Army Rule 670-1, which states in part:
“Wearing a combination of civilian and military clothing is prohibited, unless prescribed in this regulation or directed by the Secretary of the Army.”
“These children, they’re not even 18 yet, they’re not allowed to do a lot of things that adults are allowed to do,” Fletcher said. “They go through all of this pain, all of this suffering, all this training to become adults, and to be rejected like that and to be, not really talked down to, but basically said that you have to cover it up, you have to cover up this pride, your pride that you’ve earned, and you know that hurts. It really does.”
That’s why Florida Senator Tom Lee said this issue should be an easy one for school leaders to change.
“We have a school board, an elected school board and they have an authority to set policy to here for our Hillsborough County School district, and they can certainly handle it here locally," Lee explained. "And if they don’t want to handle it here locally, the legislature could take it up as well."
Lee, who is up for re-election, said this is an issue he’s hoping to take to the state legislature. He’d like to see a state law that allows student soldiers to wear their uniforms to graduation.
“It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve gone off and accomplished something as a result of a circumstance like this,” he said. “I think this is sometimes how the best legislation gets done, is problems no one perceived or ever expected as a matter of common sense to become an issue. And you hear about it and you get a chance to go up there and make a little bit of a difference.”
Olson’s family said they set up a meeting with the senator in the coming weeks.
School district officials said there’s no written policy for students to wear cap and gowns to graduation, but it’s the way they’ve done it for decades. Officials said there's a possibility the school board will do a policy review in the coming months before the next graduation to make it clear what direction schools should take when it comes to cap and gowns and military uniforms.